Published on Friday, November 26, 2004 by The Nation
Kerry and the Gift of Impunity
by Naomi Klein
Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20-year-old Marine from Appalachia who has been christened "the face of Falluja" by prowar pundits and "The Marlboro Man" by pretty much everyone else. Reprinted in more than a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller "after more than twelve hours of nearly nonstop deadly combat" in Falluja, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.
Gazing lovingly at Miller, Dan Rather confessed that, "for me, this is personal.... This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it, study it, absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I." A few days later, the LA Times declared that its photo had "moved into the realm of the iconic." In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: It's a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro Man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood (John Wayne) who was himself channeling America's most powerful founding myth (the cowboy on the rugged frontier). It's like a song you feel like you've heard a thousand times before--because you have.
But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro Man as its President, Miller is an icon, and as if to prove it he has ignited his very own controversy. "Lots of children, particularly boys, play 'army' and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle. Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of the Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of nonsmoking soldiers in Iraq?" A reader of the New York Post suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a Marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water, would have a more positive impact on your readers."
Yes, that's right: Letter-writers from across the nation are united in their outrage--not that the steely-eyed smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool. It reminds me of the joke about the Hasidic rabbi who says all sexual positions are acceptable except for one: standing up, "because that could lead to dancing."
On second thought, perhaps Miller does deserve to be elevated to the status of icon--not of the war in Iraq but of the new era of supercharged American impunity. Because outside US borders, it is, of course, a different Marine who has been awarded the prize as "the face of Falluja": the soldier captured on tape executing a wounded, unarmed prisoner in a mosque. Runners-up are a photograph of 2-year-old Fallujan in a hospital bed with one of his tiny legs blown off; a dead child lying in the street, clutching the headless body of an adult; and an emergency health clinic blasted to rubble. Inside the United States, these snapshots of a lawless occupation appeared only briefly, if at all. Yet Miller's icon status has endured, kept alive with human interest stories about fans sending cartons of Marlboros to Falluja, interviews with the Marine's proud mother and earnest discussions about whether smoking might reduce Miller's effectiveness as a fighting machine.
Impunity--the perception of being outside the law--has long been the hallmark of the Bush regime. What is alarming is that it appears to have deepened since the election, ushering in what can best be described as an orgy of impunity. In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are assaulting civilian targets and openly attacking doctors, clerics and journalists who have dared to count the bodies. At home, impunity has been made official policy with Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales--the man who personally advised the President in his infamous "torture memo" that the Geneva Conventions are "obsolete"--as Attorney General.
This kind of defiance cannot simply be explained by Bush's win. There has to be something in how he won, in how the election was fought, that gave this Administration the distinct impression that it had been handed a "get out of the Geneva Conventions free" card. That's because the Administration was handed precisely such a gift--by John Kerry.
In the name of "electability," the Kerry campaign gave Bush five months on the campaign trail without ever facing serious questions about violations of international law. Fearing he would be seen as soft on terror and disloyal to US troops, Kerry stayed scandalously silent about Abu Ghraib and Guant?amo Bay. When it became clear that fury would rain down on Falluja as soon as the polls closed, Kerry never spoke out against the plan, or against the illegal bombings of civilian areas that took place throughout the campaign. Even after The Lancet published its landmark study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion and occupation, Kerry repeated his outrageous (and frankly racist) claim that Americans "have borne 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq." His unmistakable message: Iraqi deaths don't count. By buying the highly questionable logic that Americans are incapable of caring about anyone's lives but their own, the Kerry campaign and its supporters became complicit in the dehumanization of Iraqis, reinforcing the idea that some lives are insufficiently important to risk losing votes over. And it is this morally bankrupt logic, more than the election of any single candidate, that allows these crimes to continue unchecked.
The real-world result of all the "strategic" thinking is the worst of both worlds: It didn't get Kerry elected and it sent a clear message to the people who were elected that they will pay no political price for committing war crimes. And this is Kerry's true gift to Bush: not just the presidency, but impunity. You can see it perhaps best of all in the Marlboro Man in Falluja, and the surreal debates that swirl around him. Genuine impunity breeds a kind of delusional decadence, and this is its face: a nation bickering about smoking while Iraq burns.
Published on Friday, November 19, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Smedley Butler, Meet John Perkins
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
Remember Smedley Butler?
He was perhaps the most decorated Major General in Marine Corps history.
In the early part of this century, he fought and killed for the United States around the world.
Butler was awarded two Congressional Medals of Honor.
Then, when he returned to the United States he wrote a book titled ?War is a Racket? which opens with the memorable lines: ?War is a racket. It always has been.?
?I was a high class muscleman for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers,? Butler said. ?In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.?
In a speech in 1933, Butler said the following:
?I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.?
Smedley Butler, meet John Perkins.
Perkins has just written a book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Barrett Koehler, 2004).
It is the War is A Racket for our times.
Some of it is hard to believe.
You be the judge.
In 1968, after graduating from Boston University, Perkins joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Ecuador. There, he was recruited by the National Security Agency (NSA) and hired by an international consulting firm, Chas. T. Main in Boston.
Soon after beginning his job in Boston, ?I was contacted by a woman named Claudine who became my trainer as an economic hit man.?
Perkins assumed the woman worked for the NSA.
?She said she was sent to help me and to train me,? Perkins said. ?She is extremely beautiful, sensual, seductive, intelligent. Her job was to convince me to become an economic hit man, holding out these three drugs ?- sex, drugs and money. And then she wanted to let me know that I was getting into a dirty business. And I shouldn?t go off on my first assignment, which was going to be Indonesia, and start doing this unless I knew that I was going to continue doing it, and once I was in I was in for life.?
Perkins worked for Main from 1970 to 1980.
His job was to convince the governments of the third world countries and the banks to make deals where huge loans were given to these countries to develop infrastructure projects.
And a condition of the loan was that a large share of the money went back to the big construction companies in the USA ? the Bechtels and Halliburtons.
The loans would plunge the countries into debts that would be impossible to pay off.
?The system is set up such that the countries are so deep in debt that they can?t repay their debt,? Perkins said. ?When the U.S. government wants favors from them, like votes in the United Nations or troops in Iraq, or in many, many cases, their resources ? their oil, their canal, in the case of Panama, we go to them and say ? look, you can?t pay off your debts, therefore sell your oil at a very low price to our oil companies. Today, tremendous pressure is being put on Ecuador, for example, to sell off its Amazonian rainforest -? very precious, very fragile places, inhabited by indigenous people whose cultures are being destroyed by the oil companies.?
When a leader of a country refuses to cooperate with economic hit men like Perkins, the jackals from the CIA are called in.
Perkins said that both Omar Torrijos of Panama and Jaime Boldos of Ecuador -? both men he worked with ? refused to play the game with the U.S. and both were cut down by the CIA -? Torrijos when his airplane blew up, and Roldos when his helicopter exploded, within three months of each other in 1981.
If the CIA jackals don?t do the job, then the U.S. Marines are sent in ?- Butler?s ?racketeers for capitalism.?
Perkins also gives lurid details of how he pimped for a Saudi prince in the 1970s, in an effort to get the Saudi royal family to enter an elaborate deal in which the U.S. would protect the House of Saud. In exchange, the Saudis agreed to stabilize oil prices and use their oil money to purchase Treasury bonds, the interest on which would be used to pay U.S. construction firms like Bechtel to build Saudi cities.
For years, Perkins wanted to stop being an economic hit man and write a tell-all book.
He quit Main in 1980, only to be lured back with megabucks as a consultant. He testified in favor of the Seabrook Nuclear power plant (?my most infamous assignment?) in the 1980s, but the experience pushed him out of the business, and he started an alternative energy firm. When word got out in the 1990s that he was starting to write a tell-all book, he was approached by the president of Stone & Webster, a big engineering firm.
Over seven years, Stone & Webster paid Perkins $500,000 to do nothing.
?At that first meeting, the president of the company mentioned some of the books that I had written about indigenous people and said ?- that?s nice, that?s fine, keep doing your non-profit work,? Perkins told us. ?We approve of that, but you certainly would never write about this industry, would you? And I assured him that I wouldn?t.?
Perkins assumes the money was a bribe to get him not to write the book.
But he has written the book.
You be the judge.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of the forthcoming On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).
? 2004 Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
:: David 3:04 AM [+] ::